ELK CITY, OK (KSWO) - Residents of Elk City spent the day digging through rubble left behind by Tuesday's tornado, which killed one person and destroyed at least 40 homes, leaving dozens more badly damaged.
Officials say the man who died had left his home to escape the storm, when his car was thrown several hundred feet.
Britne Kiener was eating dinner at a neighbor’s house when what she thought was just going to be hail hit the neighborhood.
“We heard it was getting closer so we went outside to check it out. You couldn’t see the tornado, you could just see a fog, it just looked like a darkness,” Kiener said. “It came closer and closer and all of the sudden it hit it was rain and hail and as soon as we went inside and went into the safe room we heard their dining room windows just completely crash.”
Kiener said when they came out of the storm shelter, the severity of the situation really began to dawn on her.
“I just kept thinking everything is gone and when I got to my house I thought where are we going to go, where are we going to live for the next year because our house is a total loss and it’s destroyed,” Kiener said.
Kiener turned her attention to her dog, who was left home alone because they didn’t have time to run back and grab her before escaping to the storm shelter.
“We ran down here and couldn’t find her anywhere,” Kiener said. “We looked through the house and saw all of the damage and everything. About two hours later after everybody was searching, we finally found her in the laundry room.”
Kiener said despite her laundry room being completely destroyed with the roof torn off of it, her dog was safe and sound right there waiting for them. She said she is fortunate her family and friends are safe but now, they’ve turned their attention to the future.
“Today, it’s just very surreal like it really did happen and we’ve just been trying to get everything out that we can because they’re going to have to take our house down,” Kiener said. “But everybody has been so nice and so helpful, so many churches and friends and family members. I mean I’m so appreciative of everything everybody has done.
Just down the street from Kiener, resident Quinton Nichols said he was watching the tornado from the backyard of one of his neighbors. He said it was heading straight East and he thought he was in the clear.
“Then it just kind of took a left-hand turn and it hit the lake and it looked like every bit of water in the lake just came up out of the ground,” Nichols said. “I ran and jumped in and it hit us within 30 seconds. It was just, it wasn’t like anything I’ve ever been through before. The insulation jumped in the cellar with us. It was quite a ride.”
Nichols said he vividly remembers the scene inside the cellar, where it was pitch black as they rode out the storm.
“People say it sounds like a train but it was more just like a loud hum or something,” Nichols said. “It wasn’t like a train it was like a truck going down the highway and you’re next to it. And then it was gone and it was just rain and then the sun came out.”
Once they knew the storm was passed, Nichols said they ran into even more problems trying to leave the shelter.
“The roof fell in on us so we kind of had to crawl out,” Nichols said. “The guy that was in there with us said my house is still there. I said well half of it. We climbed out and my wife’s car was totally demolished and it was quite a breathtaking experience.”
Nichols said he was one of the lucky ones, as he only had one window blown out at his house. But his mother who lives a few houses down was not as lucky, as her house was completely demolished.
“She’s got a lot of stuff in there that’s gone that she’s had from my great grandmother, my aunt, my dad’s parents and stuff. It’s a sad deal,” Nichols said.
Nichols said Wednesday was a lot of work as they tried to clean up the destruction in the neighborhood. But he said that work is made much easier because of the great community they have around them.
“I’m a school teacher here and all the school teachers are out here today from elk city,” Nichols said. “All our principals and everybody are out here. We’re a big town out in the middle of nowhere and people kind of jump to in and we’re very fortunate to have the kind of people we have out here.”